Backlash on Warner Bros.' decision for simultaneous streaming, cinema releases

"Wonder Woman 1984", "The Suicide Squad" are among the Warner Bros. titles receiving the simultaneous release.
"Wonder Woman 1984", "The Suicide Squad" are among the Warner Bros. titles receiving
the simultaneous release.

8 Dec – It was just a few days ago that Warner Bros. revealed that its upcoming movies from this month throughout next year will receive simultaneous releases in cinemas and on HBO Max, in territories where the streaming platform is available.

This will kick off with the simultaneous release of "Wonder Woman 1984" in North American cinemas and on HBO Max this Christmas Day. It will stay in cinemas for however long it manages to remain in the screening slots. However, it will only be available on HBO Max for a month before being removed and eventually distributed to other streaming platforms.

Following that, all 17 movies in Warner Bros.' 2021 slate will also utilise the same marketing strategy.

The current 2021 schedule is as follows: "Mortal Kombat" (15 January), "The Little Things" (29 January), "Tom and Jerry" (5 March), "The Many Saints of Newark" (12 March), "Reminiscence" (15 April), "Godzilla vs. Kong" (21 May), "The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It" (4 June), "In the Heights" (18 June), "Space Jam: A New Legacy" (16 July), "The Suicide Squad" (6 August), "Dune" (1 October), "Elvis" (5 November), "King Richard" (19 November), "Matrix 4" (22 December), "Judas and the Black Messiah" (TBA), "Malignant" (TBA) and "Those Who Wish Me Dead" (TBA).

While cinephiles are somewhat delighted by the news, because they at least now have to option to choose whether to go watch the movies in cinemas or just stream them at home, key players in Hollywood aren't welcoming this with open arms.

Among the most vocal of in their opposition is director Christopher Nolan, whose action thriller "Tenet" was released by Warner Bros. in cinemas back in August. The filmmaker is well known for his adamance of premiering his movies in cinemas, citing the fact that his movies are made specifically to be enjoyed on the big screen as his reason.

Christopher Nolan (R), seen here with "Tenet" star John David Washington, is not a
fan of Warner Bros.' plan to release its 2021 movies on HBO Max. (Photo source: DW)

Nolan calls the decision to release the 17 movies on HBO Max an "insult".

"Some of our industry's biggest filmmakers and most important movie stars went to bed the night before thinking they were working for the greatest movie studio and woke up to find out they were working for the worst streaming service," he told The Hollywood Reporter.

"Warner Bros. had an incredible machine for getting a filmmaker's work out everywhere, both in theaters and in the home, and they are dismantling it as we speak. They don't even understand what they're losing. Their decision makes no economic sense, and even the most casual Wall Street investor can see the difference between disruption and dysfunction," he added.

Also opposing the simultaneous release plan is Legendary Entertainment. Variety reported that the production company that co-financed "Dune" and "Godzilla vs. Kong," is unhappy that Warner Bros. did not inform it of the latter's plan to release the movies on HBO Max. With USD175 million invested in "Dune" and another USD160 million in "Godzilla vs. Kong", understandably Legendary will not want to risk the movies becoming box office failures due to lack of ticket sales.

Legendary Pictures could've made more money selling "Godzilla vs. Kong"
to Netflix but the deal was blocked by WarnerMedia.

Reportedly, Netflix showed interest in purchasing "Godzilla vs. Kong" for USD250 million several months ago, but this deal did not go through following WarnerMedia's interference.

Looking from the point-of-view of Warner Bros., WarnerMedia, and parent company AT&T, the simultaneous release plan would make sense to them. The strategy may help HBO Max, which hasn't exactly taken off as well as some of the other studios' streaming platforms like Disney+ and Apple TV+.

On the flip side, this could hurt the cinemas as people may get used to waiting on their couch for blockbusters to come to their homes. Currently, pandemic aside, movie-lovers have no choice but to go catch new releases in cinemas first, as it would take some time before these get released on streaming platforms. The simultaneous release eliminates this need, and those more comfortable staying at home might opt to forgo the cinema-going experience in favour of at-home streaming.

As for the movie stars themselves, who've worked on their movies thinking that those will be shown on the big screen, that's another hurdle studios will need to overcome if everyone begins following Warner Bros.' simultaneous release strategy.

Patty Jenkins (L), seen here on set with "Wonder Woman 1984" star Gal Gadot,
had been insisting on premiering the movie in cinemas and not streaming platforms.

As mentioned, "Wonder Woman 1984" will be Warner Bros.' lab rat for this. To appease star Gal Gadot, who plays the titular superhero, and director Patty Jenkins, the studio agreed to pay each of them more than USD10 million to get the duo to agree to the movie's HBO Max release.

Of course, this does not bode well with the stars of the other upcoming movies. The New York Times reported that representatives of Denzel Washington, Margot Robbie, Will Smith, Keanu Reeves, Hugh Jackman and Angelina Jolie are questioning why their clients have received no such offer.

There are no words at the moment on how the studio's arrangement with the aforementioned stars will be, since this will be a hybrid platform which won't follow the follow standard monetising model. These A-listers will still need to get paid and deals will need to be worked out, lest they decide to take this to court due to lack of transparency in the studio's release plan, which might result in dismal box office collection.

This aside, there's another issue that the studio will need to think about: a higher threat of piracy. Once a movie is released on streaming platforms, pirated copies tend to swarm the internet within days, if not hours. Quality won't be an issue as these will be ripped digitally, as opposed to being grainy recordings of movies in cinemas, which means tightfisted cinephiles might be more tempted to download the pirated versions rather than pay to stream the original movies.

Related Movies:
Wonder Woman 1984 (17 Dec 2020)
The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It (11 Jun 2021)
Dune (16 Sep 2021)
Tom And Jerry (11 Feb 2021)
Godzilla Vs. Kong (24 Mar 2021)
Malignant (09 Sep 2021)
The Suicide Squad (05 Aug 2021)

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